Sunday, August 13, 2017

Why I Stopped Talking About Money During Mass

There are many topics I like to talk about at Mass. I do not mind taking on the list of forbidden topics (abortion, artificial birth control, marriage, and so on).  There are two topics, though, I do not talk about.  One is politics.  My reason for this is that I have a I have general disdain for politics and resent how they hijack moral issues and turn them into political issues…which form 99% of the so called forbidden list.  I will talk about God’s law which is eternal as opposed to man’s law which changes on societal whims.  I would sooner wade into the cesspool that is politics before I talk about money.
                I have several reasons for this.  First, I am not running a business.  I will grant that being pastor of a parish has businesslike elements to it: payroll, taxes, budgets, and bills.  That said, what we offer in a parish isn’t goods and services.  It isn’t any more like a business than a family is.  A family also had financial aspects to it, especially as it grows, but it is not a business. No good parish is set up like a business franchise in order to sell holy stuff.  A parish that shoots for such is doomed.  When this happens, a parish is continually chasing the consumer demands.  It ceases forming those in its care, but gets formed by those with interest that may or may not have the primary goal of the proclamation of the Gospel.
                Second, while having a sense of business management is helpful, a parish can have all the money in the world and be dead.  One can be wealthy, but be an homage to lukewarmness.  Wealth is not the goal of a parish.  In fact, true wealth is not measured in dollars and cents.  Jesus tells us to store up wealth in heaven.  That wealth is the byproduct of the proclamation of the Kingdom.  That is my focus and the focus of any stable parish.
                I will talk about stewardship instead.  Stewardship is a different concept altogether.  Stewardship is understanding of taking care of what God has given.  Stewardship is expressed in our active care of and for parish and those the parish serves. 
                In the Old Testament, there were two types of offerings: the sin/peace offering and the thanksgiving offering.  The sin/peace offering was the sacrifice of one’s prize animal because one had sinned.  The animal took the punishment due to the person who sinned.  In our Catholic faith, we believe that this sacrifice is done in the Sacrifice of the Mass.  In the Mass, we directly participate in the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross.   This is why animal sacrifices no longer happen in Christianity.  However, the second sacrifice, the thanksgiving sacrifice is not suppressed.  That thanksgiving sacrifice is also called the tithe.
                In the Old Testament, the thanksgiving sacrifice was the first fruits of one’s labor.  It was a thanksgiving to God made as a thank you to God for all the blessings He had given.  To commandeer the thanksgiving sacrifice for one’s own use, God tells the prophet Malachi, was theft from God.  It was the act of a spoiled and entitled child.  The sacrifice was to be used to two ends.  First, it was to be used to the help the livelihood of those who served God.  Priests and Levites were to not own farms or businesses so that they might be dedicated completely to the service of God and His people.  Part of the thanksgiving sacrifice to be distributed to those who were in need.  These are still in effect.
                My task as a priest is the same.  As a priest, I am prohibited from owning a business, having an outside job, or living in grandeur.  Canon Law says we priests should live simply and be dedicated 24/7 to the service of God and His people.  In the same vein, most parishes have staff, clerical, educational, administrative, maintenance, and such who assist the pastor in executing the ministries of the parish and see to the good and upkeep of the property.  Part of the thanksgiving offering goes to helping these things happen and pays for the material necessities (utilities, insurance,   for example) to keep parish programs and building going strong.  When the thanksgiving sacrifice is withheld and when first fruits turn to scraps, the ability of a parish to fully do its mission is truncated.  Stewardship is all about making sure that these things are done and done well.  Part of the thanksgiving offering is to go to the help of the needy. 
                My task in the stewardship is twofold.  First, I too must give a thanksgiving offering.   Second, as pastor, I am directly answerable to God for how I use that offering.  If I misuse the funds to own personal gain, I stand answerable to God for having stolen what was given and dereliction of duty.   My job isn’t to tell you what to give.  I do not look at giving records.  I do not make it my business.  What is given is between the giver and God.  I am answerable to God for what I gave and you are answerable for what you give. 
                Stewardship, though, is measured in more than dollars and cents.  Stewardship is also measured in the participation we give in the mission of the parish.  Many believe that my only obligation to the parish is to show up for Mass.  Oftentimes the collection becomes a cash register: we pay for the services we use.  This is horrible understanding of what being a part of the Body of Christ means.  Our giving of time, energy, and resources should be measured in what is the needs of the Body of Christ in my parish.   What a parish can do is expanded or contracted and even negated by what time, energy, and monies are given or not given.  If we want a lively and holy parish, our stewardship is the fuel we put into the tank.  God puts in His grace and we put in our thanksgiving.
                    Monies are always needed as our creditors will not take, “I’ll pray for you’ in lieu of a cash.  The members of our staff, paid much less than those in the same field in the private sector, have a right for a just wage for their jobs.  Buildings and properties need constant upkeep.  We have a mission to get to.  Our thanksgiving sacrifice fuels these things.  When we give God our scraps and not our first fruits, we tell God two things:  I do not trust Him to provide for me nor do I care about the mission of His Church enough to throw my lot in with it.
                How much a parish succeed or fails is wholly dependent upon the stewardship each parishioner gives.  The collection is not a cash register to pay for services rendered, but part of the thanksgiving sacrifice we make to God.  If we want our mission to expand and grow deeper, we must invest ourselves.  We must invest our time, energy, and treasure to the good of the mission of Christ.  That comes in the form of prayer, of volunteering, and of treasure. AS God is to never be outdone in generosity, the proper giving of the thanksgiving sacrifice reaps what it sows.  Sow sparingly and one will only reap sparingly.
                When it comes to finance, I can tell you the following in how I see my job as pastor.  First, I do not like debt.  I am a big believer in staying on top of our bills and putting money away to make sure that future capital improvements can be done on schedule.  I am a fiscal hawk.  I do not throwing money away or spending money twice because corners were cut.  I believe I am totally answerable to God for every cent you all give.  I am answerable for how the time and energy you give is appreciated and used.  It is unbecoming of a pastor to take advantage of the good will or be thankless for their generosity. In other words, I will use wisely what you give, but I can only use that which you give.  I can only invest the principle you give me to invest.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Why Mass matters

As we come up to the start of the new school year, perhaps it is a good time to revisit why Sunday Mass is more than merely important.  It is necessary.  It is the heart of the lived Roman Catholic life.  The Church refers to the Mass as the source and summit of our faith.  So central to the lived experience and growth of the faith, that it is one of the precepts of the Church.  For a Roman Catholic to be considered a Catholic in good standing, Mass attendance is required.  There are exceptions made for those who are ill or tending to an ill person.  There are those who health prevents them from coming.  These account for very few Catholics overall.  Some have jobs that make Mass attendance difficult. The Church understands this.

               Most don’t come because they do not see a necessity for it.  It comes from decades of low understanding of the faith, experimentation done during Mass that went awry, and an overall lowballing of expectations that fell from a call to holiness to a call to being good.  The average percentage of Catholics who regularly attend Mass is a definitive minority. Most do not.  I would argue that a large part of the reason Catholic influence has nosedived, why vocations have fallen, and why Catholics are not substantially different from non-Catholics in their attitudes towards moral issues starts with the spiritual starvation that comes from skipping Mass.  If just the Catholics who are on parish rolls came to Mass on a regular basis, most churches would have to add multiple Mass times.

               Many remain on rolls because they want to be buried in the cemetery or want their children to be able to go to the parish school at no or reduced tuition.  In the latter case, the good will of the parish is being taken advantage of in a rather reprehensible way. Parish schools exist to do more than provide an education.  They are an investment, a large investment, on the parishes’ part to training our youth to be educated, forthright, and holy Catholic leaders.  This investment is cut at the knees when Mass is left out of the equation.  Weekday Masses do not replace the Sunday Mass.  When Sunday Mass is left out of the equation, the time, energy, and monies spent are wasted to the end for which they were given.

               The Sunday Mass (Saturday PM counts to this) is about the keeping holy of the Sabbath.  Because Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Sunday) the commitment to the Sabbath was moved from the Jewish Sabbath of Sunday to the day of the Resurrection.  Every Sunday is a celebration of Easter.  The Resurrection changes everything.  It validates the eternal sacrifice of the Cross we share in every time we come to Mass.  It points us to a destination far beyond the temporal plain.  At Mass, God punches through our time and space to bring us into His.  Hence there are two sides to what is going on.

               First, we come to glorify God.  Many will say that I glorify God, theoretically, from the comfort of my own home, or a fishing boat, or a deer stand, or a winding trail.  Sure.  Pronouns matter.   Notice I said we and not I.  Through baptism, we are brought into the Body of Christ.  Our relationship with Christ is intertwined with our relationship with each other.  WE worship.  WE, the Body of Christ present in this locale, worship as an assembly (ekklesia in Greek…Church is English).  WE come together in the common purpose of worship.  What is worship?  It is not entertainment.  Mass is not a movie, TV show, ballgame, or play.  It is not something we merely sit in an auditorium to watch as spectators to cheer of jeer the entertainers.  Worship is an act issuing FROM us, not to us.  The ‘us’ in question is not merely the people who happen to be in the room at the same time, but we are connected to every other member of the Body of Christ throughout the world, in time and eternity.

               We call the Mass, the Eucharist.  The word ‘Eucharist’ comes from the Greek word for ‘thanksgiving.’ We gather as members of a single Body to give thanks to God.  We also give Him adoration.   Mass is first and foremost, from our part, what we give to God. In that giving, we are united to the Body of Christ throughout the world.  To willingly and slothfully separate ourselves from this assembly of the Body of Christ is to diminish the centrality of Christ in our life.

               The second side to this equation is what God does for us in response to our worship.  If we come into Mass to concretely tell God of our active love for Him and each other, His response is to make us holy.  We should never lose sight that the call of a Catholic is not to mere goodness, but to holiness. Holiness is a much higher and well-spelled out calling than the ambiguity of ‘being good.’  Holiness, which is the calling card of a son or daughter of God, can only be done through the grace of God.  It can only be done in union with God.  God’s response to our intentional and right worship of Him is to give us the grace of the Body and Blood of His Son that we might grow as individuals and as a people in our faith and witness.

               Without this infusion of God’s grace, we spiritually starve ourselves.  The reception of the Body and Blood of Christ is necessary, as Christ Himself told us, “Unless you eat my Flesh and drink my Blood, you have no life within you.” (John 6:53)  If we do not have the life of Christ within us, then we willingly shut ourselves out of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The reception of the Eucharist does require three things: presence, belief, and a state of grace.  It makes sense that we need to be physically present.  In the case of our shut-ins, we bring Communion to them.  Presence, though, is NOT enough.  We cannot be merely physically present in a building where Mass is taking place.  Second, we must believe that what is being given to us is truly the Body and Blood of Christ.  Without belief, the reception of Christ’s Body and Blood becomes an act of blasphemy.  Finally, our souls must be in a state of grace to receive.  This means we cannot be in a state of mortal sin at the time of reception.  If we are, we truncate the ability of God’s grace to change and strengthen us and the act of receiving Communion becomes an act of sacrilege.   It is why the sacrament of Reconciliation is so important, for in this sacrament the soul is cleansed of that which blocks the grace of the Eucharist from taking hold in our lives.

It is the Body and Blood of Christ that bond us together as the Body of Christ.  It is in this union that we receive the benefits, both temporal and eternal, of being a member of the Body of Christ.  We cannot expect the benefits without that consistent membership.  Whether that benefit comes in the use of parochial and diocesan programs and assistance, education, and ministries or in the eternal life of heaven, our faithful and faith-filled reception of the Eucharist at Mass matters greatly.  It is my duty to remind those of my flock of this central belief and hold it up as the base standard of our faith.  To allow the giving of the benefits of the Body of Christ while a person willfully absents themselves from the Mass is a gross dereliction of duty on my part.   Because I care about the temporal needs of those assigned to my pastoral care and even more so to the eternal fate of my flock, it is my task to point to the greater and more challenging.  I point out it is my calling to be faithful, not popular.  That I set this standard is towards the ends of the holiness to which each of us is called.   


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Gentlemen: A Call to Arms

The following is a pastoral letter to the men of my parishes.  
I write this letter to the men of this parish, not to the exclusion of the women of this parish, but to clearly spell out what The Church and the Scriptures see as your role within this parish, your family, and our society.

I write this knowing that lay men have been long ignored.  It isn’t that some are not in positions of service with the parish.  Some are on the various committees, fundraisers, and other activities within the parish.  Some help with the various ministries within the Mass.  This is all good.  For too long, though, men have remained unchallenged and oft complained about.  Certainly our society takes a very dim view of men.  When no competing message comes from their parish, it is easy to presume that their parish thinks the same way about them as does society.

This is not the case within the church.  Sacred Scripture reminds us that the husband is the spiritual head of the home.  It says ‘is’, not ‘should be’, not ‘could be’, but ‘is’.  Every study I have ever seen on the religious practice of children finds the largest, by far, indicator of the faith of children to be the faith of the father.  If dad is disengaged from faith, the likelihood the child will follow suit is overwhelming.  Even if mom is fully engaged, the children will overwhelmingly fall away from the faith.  So, men, you are that central and important.  Your role cannot be shoved off on your wife who already has other roles to play within the faith development of the children.

Society has done a complete job of emasculating the role of men.  If we look how dads are portrayed in the media, at best it is as a self-absorbed buffoon, at worst it is as a clueless selfish man-child.  We priests do not fare any better.  We are portrayed as heartless dictators, uncaught felons, or buffoons as well.  Certainly our role within the guidance of families and parishes has been diminished.  The devil knows to get at the flock, one must strike the shepherd. This is not the fault of feminism; no can take ground that isn’t ceded.  We men have fallen into a trap of being merely nice, of being merely good.  That isn’t our call. It isn’t the call of any Catholic.  Understanding the core of our call is essential to understanding our role within the parish, the family, and our society.

What is that core?  Virtue.  The Scriptures call all of us to various qualities.  They never call us to be good or nice.  Never.  We are called to something much more bold, strong, brave, and challenging.  The virtues clue us into that.  There are 4 cardinal virtues (temperance, justice, fortitude, and prudence) and three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love).  These clue us into our roles as men within the church.

Virtue are learned disciplines that are strengthened or weakened by our choices.  They do to the soul what weights for the body or studying does to the intellect.   The virtues challenge us to be our better selves.  They are difficult at first, but become easier with practice.  I liken it to weight lifting.  The first time one weight lifts the movements can be awkward if done correctly; if the movements are not done correctly they can do great damage.  The movement must be disciplined and intentional.  So it is with the virtues.

Prudence is the virtue by which we learn to wisely decide what is good, what is to be done, what strengthens us. Justice is the virtue by which we judge what is needed by another; it teaches us to move from selfishness to selflessness.  Temperance is the virtue by which we learn restraint and right use of goods; it leads to personal strength.  Fortitude is the virtue by which we willingly engage in these virtues and stick to them regardless of the hardships, external or internal, that follow.

The three theological virtues require grace to grow; we cannot divorce the practice of the faith from these virtues.  Faith is the virtue by which we brow in the knowledge of what constitutes our faith.  Hope is the virtue by which we willingly embrace conversion trusting in God’s will for us.  Love is the greatest of all these virtues, because its selfless nature spurs us to reach for the excellence the Catholic life calls us to.  Love puts the focus where it should be and powers all of these virtues.

A good pastor has the qualities of a great coach.  Of my many tasks is to call to excellence, expect excellence, and lay out a path to it.  Christ has given us this already.  We must, if we are to be effective, boldly charge into the breach.  My expectations of myself and other men are that we give the best of who we are for the good of those placed in our care.  My expectation is we embrace whatever sacrifice and suffering is necessary to manfully accomplish the task Christ sets us to.
My brothers, we share in the shepherding role of Christ.  A man who is good at shepherding places himself in between his flock and what would harm his flock.  The time for absconding our duties and leading from behind, a time that should never have been, are long past.   Not long ago, Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix issued a pastoral exhortation the men of his diocese called, “Into the Breach.”   I would love to get the men of this parish to read, study, and rise to the challenge of this letter.  I know some men already have.  That said, a parish doesn’t need some of its men engaged or even the majority of the men engaged; it needs all of its men engaged!

We need the support of each other in this task.  We are called to use God’s grace to raise each other up.   Gentlemen, we are on a battlefield.  The devil has gained too much ground and it is high time we take it back.  The stronger a warrior we are, the more effective a warrior we are.  The devil wants access not just to you but to your wife, your fiancĂ©, your girlfriend, your children, and all others you love.  His plan is to eternally destroy them.  He has to get through you.  Will you stand and fight.  Because if you will, as we have Christ as our head, the devil can damage but destroy.  

I have been approached already by some men of the parish to form something that would accomplish this end.  Here is my call to arms, brothers.  Let us stir up the nobility and heroism that is proper to us and get about the business of being Catholic men.  If you are interested, contact me.  If you are not: why?  I know we have schedules that are jam packed.  That said, men, we need warriors, not excuses.  Time to engage.